Category Archives: social media

The audacity of Hope

Stephen Armstrong, the author of Road to Wigan Pier Revisited, gave a talk in Newcastle on Wednesday evening at an event organised by Children North East and the North East Child Poverty Commission. He had retraced Orwell’s steps 75 years on and found that, in many cases, life hadn’t improved for lots of people and, in some instances, had probably got worse.

The stories, whilst brilliantly told were, utlimately, very depressing and there appeared little to be optimistic about. The question and answer session following the talk provided lots of questions, but precious little in the way of answers to the many problems many people face today. And then, an audience member from Argentina spoke about her experience in that country and noted that, in absolute terms, poverty in Argentina looked a lot different (and a lot worse) than poverty in the UK. She used the word hope as well. I asked a question about potential ‘tipping points’, a lady next to me asked Stephen about his sense of collective action and then Sara Bryson from Children NE said that she had hope because she felt that there was lots of work being done in the region about this issue, there was a real sense that something might be happening but mainly, she had hope because she worked with children and young people and many of them still had hope.

Hope’s Diary

In preparation for a conference that was held on child poverty in the North East last year, Children North East, along with Helix Arts and the Live Theatre supported a group of young people to produce a play about the experience of growing up in the region living in poverty. Hope’s Diary was the result of this idea. The 10 minute play was performed at the conference and was recently performed twice for MP’s at a Parliamentary Reception (called Hope in Parliament) hosted by Sharon Hodgson MP. Local coverage of the reception can be found here and is worth a look.

The play ends with the young people recounting what they expect to happen and what they hope will happen to them and their families in the future….

In the future…

I expect little change

I expect nothing

I expect my little sister not to get better

I expect greater stress

I expect to be wiser

I expect for no one to understand

I expect my mum won’t get a job

I don’t know what to expect

I expect to get kicked out

I expect to have a hard life

In the Future.

I hope for a better neighbourhood

I hope to have a nice garden

I hope for more money

I hope for a better house

I hope I don’t have to worry so much

I hope to go to university

I hope to become a history teacher

I hope to feel a sense of pride

I hope to win the lottery

I hope to go on holiday, anywhere

I hope.

Hope’s Diary is currently being developed into an online resource called ‘A Day of Hope’, following a Culture Hack event in the region. Again, it’s worth a look to see how young people can be involved in the discussions about the impact of poverty and in prompting everyone, not just adults, to take the issue seriously.


Inclusion or stigma?

Last Friday, Dr. Kathy Hamilton from the University of Strathclyde gave a seminar in Durham on ‘Inclusion or Stigma? Low Income families and coping through brands‘. The paper that the seminar was based on can be found here and the presentation that Kathy delivered can be found here or by clicking on the image below

The seminar was very well received and three things in particular struck me about Kathy’s presentation.

1. Household budgeting

Kathy noted that many of the households considered spending money on ‘brands’ (visible consumption) to be ‘non-discretionary’ and spending on goods and services consumed within the household (invisible consumption) was considered to be disretionary. This was a strategy to ‘protect’ the children in the household from bullying or stigma (or from obtaining the goods using illicit methods) and reminded me of Chris Warburton- Brown’s work on maternal deprivation. (If you haven’t read his blog, please do so here and his presentation at another of our seminars can be found here)

2. Exclusion

The presentation contained a couple examples of ‘strong’ versions of social exclusion. John Veit-Wilson (1998, p45) identified that ‘weak’ versions of the social exclusion discourse focus on changing individuals characteristics whereas stronger versions ‘also emphasise the role of those who are doing the excluding’. This was particularly the case with the lone parents who felt empowered and independent by caring for their children without the support of the father whilst the wider societal discourse of ‘single mothers’ saw them as reliant on welfare; and with the consumption practices that help inclusion at a micro (neighbourhood) level provoking the threat of stigma at a macro (wider societal) level. Here’s a good ‘applied’ example from the Sunderland Echo which reports that ‘Sunderland bar bans ‘chavs’ in bid to end trouble’. The manager of the bar states that there will be ‘no labels which are classed as undesirable‘ (my emphases)

3. Social Marketing

The pervasiveness of the market and the potential (or otherwise) of ‘social marketing’ generated a lot of discussion during the panel session. The idea that an activity (marketing) that is involved in generating the stigma and exclusion that we were discussing could also form part of a strategy to address the exclusion reminded me of a paper (on social capital) by Smith and Kulynych. They argue that:

there are many problems with using a vocabulary … drawn from the predominant economic model to overcome the deficits of this model (p160)

and that

the use of the language of the stock market to discuss … the amelioration of social problems reflect the seeming hegemony of capitalism (p166)

This ‘language of the stock market’ includes not only social marketing and social capital but also, for example, ‘ethical consumption‘, ‘social return on investment‘, ‘ethical finance‘ and ‘sustainable development‘. Smith and Kulynych propose that these terms:

serve to make the social, economic and political relations that characterize capitalism appear a largely natural and inevitable aspect of human activity, as well as to help legitimate these relations.

In other words, the market is often presented as the answer, no matter what the question. This approach, it could be argued, can also be seen in the ‘new approach’ to tackling child poverty in the UK.

But these are just some of my thoughts. As ever, we’re always keen to hear yours……


*Many thanks to Kathy Hamilton for leading the seminar, Nick Ellis for chairing it and to Alison Garnham, Jeremy Cripps and Victoria Wells for taking part in the panel discussion.

A couple of days before the event, Helen Goodman, the Shadow Media Minister, who was hoping to attend the seminar, called for curbs on advertising directed at children

The Right to be Heard (and to blog and tweet….)

I’ve been lucky enough to attend two fascinating seminars in the last week that have explored rights based approaches to tackling poverty. Aoife Nolan discussed ‘Child Poverty & the Law’ in Newcastle last week and Ruth Lister presented on ‘Power not pity’ in Durham earlier on today. I intend to post some (most likely jumbled) thoughts on those discussions at a later date but one of the things that was mentioned at the event today was the potential for social media to help give people with direct experience of poverty a voice and so I thought I would share a couple of examples that I’m aware of and ask readers to share others via the comments facility. So here goes…..

(Clicking on each of the pictures should take you to the original source)

The Wrong Trainers

A series of short animated films narrated by children and produced by the BBC



An excellent short interactive game produced in the USA but which travels well and which forces players to make decisions that people on low incomes have to make every day…..

Benefits. A lifestyle choice

A short 4 minute film, fittingly made on a low budget, by the Poverty Alliance as part of their EPiC (Evidence Participation Change) project which seeks to give people with experience of poverty a voice in decision making processes.

All of the above examples, you will have noticed, have involved organisations using social media tools to promote the views or experiences of individuals or groups with experience of poverty so these experiences are still, well, mediated to some extent.

The best examples I have come across in terms of individuals (as opposed to organisations) using social media have been those involved with the Spartacus Report calling for responsible reform, and associated with campaigning around the Welfare Reform Bill. Blogs such as ‘Benefit Scrounging Scum’, ‘Diary of a Benefit Scrounger’ and ‘The Broken of Britain’ all document daily life dealing with disabilities by the people who directly experience disability.  I’m not aware of any similar blogs which exist that deal more explicitly with life on a low income. I’m sure there must be some…..

The situation for child poverty is, of course, complicated further when children might be involved, although this example from Newcastle City Council’s Children’s Rights Team, made with the help of 300 young people, called ‘Our Lives. What we do. And where we live’ shows it can be done.

We also re-blogged a post earlier this week about a photographer who has used Google maps in the US  to highlight images of poverty and there is nothing to stop individuals doing this. Children North East are also currently exploring ways to develop their work with children and young people using social media and we will keep you updated with this as and when it comes to fruition.

Finally, before I leave you, here’s a particularly uplifting social media event advocating Power to the People in Tynemouth. Not particularly poverty related and not necessarily involving people on a low income, but a good example (I hope) of the potential of social media to bring people together, do things they might not usually do, generate discussion, convey messages and promote events and stories that mainstream media may not be particularly interested in…..

So, please share your knowledge with us and, indeed thoughts about the potential of social media to help facilitate people with poverty having a greater say in discussions about poverty. Without your input, it’s not really ‘social’ is it?

Best wishes,


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